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Gunning For The Right Rating

Charlotte petition aids filmmaker cause

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By all accounts, the new documentary Gunner Palace offers an objective view of the war in Iraq, specifically following the daily activities of a troop of soldiers without bringing politics into it. Yet although the movie reportedly tells it like it is, it tells it in colorful language that met with the disapproval of the Motion Picture Association of America, whose classification board slapped the movie with an R rating based solely on the frequently profane language of the soldiers.

Arguing that the movie should be accessible to young Americans who might themselves be called upon some day soon to serve their country, the film's director, Michael Tucker, and its distributor, Palm Pictures, appealed to the board to change the rating to a PG-13. Amazingly, the board consented, and the picture opened this past Friday with a PG-13 tag.

Part of the success for that rating change might be traced to a Charlotte resident. Alan Jones, who makes his living as a freelancer involved in various film productions, began an online petition that ended up netting hundreds of signatures.

"When I first heard about this movie and about how it received an R rating, it just struck a chord with me," he explains. "It was an instinctive thing to start this online petition; it seemed like a good way to make people aware of the situation."

Although the petition wasn't officially endorsed by the folks at Palm Pictures, it was clear that they didn't mind Jones' efforts. "I didn't want to jeopardize anything they were attempting to do with the ratings board, but when I called them and told them I was doing it, they were happy, since it only helped their case."

Jones' petition remained online for several weeks and received support from all quarters. "I ended up getting about 800 signatures from all over the country," he reveals. "Some people were military, some not military, and a few were family members of troops stationed over there.

"I don't know how much my petition helped, but I like to think it was part of the success story."

Gunner Palace opened this past weekend in limited release and expands over the next couple of weeks; a Charlotte date has not been confirmed.

So, did Chris rock at the Oscars?

Both the Academy members and the mainstream press failed to grasp David Letterman's brand of comedy when he hosted the Academy Awards several years ago, and it will be interesting to see if their cluelessness will likewise translate into a post-event pasting of Chris Rock as one of the worst Oscar hosts in recent memory. For the record, Letterman was in fine form, and so was Rock, who opened with a frequently uproarious monologue and kept injecting sharp barbs throughout the course of the evening (and thank you, Sean Penn, for upholding the image of the humorless liberal weenie... you putz...).

As far as my Oscar prognosticating went, let's just say I would have done much better had I gone with my personal preferences rather than my actual predictions. I started out the night 11-for-11 (Oscar pool victory, here I come!) but jumped off track as the show progressed, finishing with an OK 14-for-21 overall but a mediocre 4-for-8 in the major categories. But hey, that's a better percentage than Martin Scorsese, who's now 0-for-5 in the Best Director race. That's the same losing stat achieved by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman, so at least he's in good company.

Speaking of Scorsese, he'll be making a North Carolina appearance next month, as he's set to take part in the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. The director will be the focus of An Evening with Martin Scorsese, an on-stage interview presentation, and will also lead a tribute to Italian documentary filmmaker Vittorio De Seta.

Other highlights of the fest include career achievement awards to Ken Burns and Ric Burns; a timely program called "Why War?" including film showings and panel discussions with Walter Mosley and Barbara Kopple, among others; the continuing program Southern Sidebar, this time titled "Going Home: Southern Families and the Longing to Belong"; and screenings of 78 movies in competition.

The festival will be held April 7-10; for more information, visit www.fullframefest.org.

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